This presentation will try to achieve two aims at once: First, it will present the results of a preliminary analysis of the role of forensic and expert evidence in contributing to wrongful convictions in the United States using data from the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE). In the course of this project, I developed an entirely new system of coding this data. I will explore some of the the dilemmas this coding process faced and the epistemological reasoning that support my decisions. Second, in the course of the presentation, I will reflect on my new role as Director and Associate Editor of the NRE. I will explore what I learned from this experience about the NRE, about wrongful conviction more generally, and about the perils and opportunities of managing a public accountability criminal justice archive in the present historical moment.
Simon A. Cole is Professor of Criminology, Law and Society and Director of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at the University of California, Irvine. He received his Ph.D. in Science & Technology Studies from Cornell University. Dr. Cole is the author of Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification (Harvard University Press, 2001), which was awarded the 2003 Rachel Carson Prize by the Society for Social Studies of Science, Truth Machine: The Contentious History of DNA Fingerprinting (University of Chicago Press, 2008, with Michael Lynch, Ruth McNally & Kathleen Jordan), and numerous scholarly articles and book chapters about the scientific validity of fingerprint evidence and its use in the courts. Dr. Cole has spoken widely on the subjects of fingerprinting, scientific evidence, and science and the law, and he has consulted and testified as an expert witness on the validity of fingerprint evidence. He has also written for many general interest publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New Scientist, and Lingua Franca. He is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Science Standards Board Friction Ridge Consensus Body and a Co-Investigator in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center for Excellence, the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE). He is Co-Editor of the journal Theoretical Criminology, and he is Associate Editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.